KATHRYN REED ALTMAN: Everybody has their own interpretation of what happened. I say it was April Fools’ Day, 1959, and he says it was April 2. So we never clarified that. He just assumed he was right and he always felt that way, and I just assumed I was right. I was working different jobs within the film business. I had a daughter I was helping to support—supporting, actually. And so it was a great way to work because I could work in blocks—whether I’d be swimming or standing in, or doubling, or working as a showgirl, or as an extra, or whatever, and I had time to be a mother. So it was ideal.

I got into doing all that because of swimming, on an Esther Williams picture. They had a call. I knew how to swim—I was born and raised in California. They had a call for girls with showgirl looks who could swim, and, God, what a huge call it was. A couple of girlfriends and I went on it, and I ended up getting it. But I had to do a lot of stuff—diving out of trapezes and going down slides. It was a famous number in Million Dollar Mermaid.

It was perfect timing for this meeting. I got the call because of Tommy Thompson—unfortunately he passed away. God, he was such an important part of Bob’s early career—he was his assistant director. Anyway, I knew him. We were buddies and all that.

He had said to a girlfriend of mine, “God, Kathryn would love this guy. He is so clever and he is so funny.” Her name was Dee Sharon, and she told me, “He’s getting a divorce, he has two little kids.” He really had three, with Christine.

And I said, “Oh boy, that sounds just great.”

“But he’s funny and he’s interesting,” she told me.

Kathryn Reed Altman

So I got the call to be a nurse and bring my own white stockings, which became a joke for forty-seven years. Actually, the truth is I didn’t bring any white stockings. The night before I had done something very social and very late, and I had really a terrible hangover. I had to be on this bus with everybody else at about seven in the morning. By the time we got to the location, which was up in the Malibu mountains somewhere, on a ranch, it was so hot, oh horrible. As I stepped off the bus, I was surprised, because no director ever comes to the bus to meet the extras. And I knew why he’s there, because they set him up with me, too. Tommy was sure I’d be crazy about him, and my girlfriend was, too. She and Tommy were kind of dating, and they both arranged it. I had kind of forgotten about it, I was feeling so crummy, and I hadn’t dwelled on it much. Until I started getting off the bus, and then I realized this was the guy. And he just looked terrible. He was overweight. He had his shirt off. Sweaty. He had a wet rag on his head. He was standing next to Tommy, who was terrific looking and a terrific guy. And so I got off and he introduced me.

He said, “This is Bob Altman. Kathryn, this is Bob Altman.”

He didn’t say hello, he didn’t say anything. He just said, “How are your morals?”

I was so annoyed. And I said, “A little shaky, how are yours?” That was the beginning.

He invited me—ha!—over to have a cappuccino, which meant going over to the bench that was set up with hot chocolate and hot coffee in the middle of this hot day, and he mixed the two together and made a cappuccino. And that was it.

He was directing all day. We hung around during lunch, and then he made sure I was on the callback. That day his boys were visiting the set and Lotus was there, too. She was still his wife, though they were separated. At lunchtime he came walking through the lunch tables with the littlest boy, his Stevie, and he had him on his shoulders.

Dee, my girlfriend, said, “His pants are on backwards.” He was two and a half years old.

Bob said, “I know it and I’m going to keep it that way.”

I’ll never forget that line. That was the first line that really broke me up.

Then he invited me to go up in a helicopter, which I didn’t really want to, but I did with a couple of other people and the kids. It was just a helicopter ride. I didn’t like them.

LOTUS CORELLI ALTMAN MONROE: Bob called and said, “We’re out in Thousand Oaks and we’re making Whirlybirds.” Thousand Oaks was the place they shot when they needed wide-open spaces, for cowboy movies and things like that. “Why don’t you bring the kids and we’ll give them a helicopter ride?”

They had a lunch break and Bob and I and the kids were walking along. There was a long table to the right and the lunch was out for the cast and crew. Kathryn was standing at the table with her back to us. Bob looked over to her, and I said, “Well, Bob, you don’t have to bother with lunch now.” He just devoured her with his eyes. He just snorted and said, “You caught me again.”

MICHAEL ALTMAN (son): Bob put me and my mom in the helicopter with Stephen strapped to her. He told the pilot to take ’er up. The pilot turned the thing upside down and there’s no fucking doors on it, and my mom just started screaming and pounding on him and flipping out. And Bob was down there laughing his ass off. That’s what I remember.

STEPHEN ALTMAN (son): I remember a helicopter ride, but that’s it.

MICHAEL ALTMAN: Steve and I grew up with our mom and my step-dad. It wasn’t like she would, like, rag on him all the time, but there was some heavy-duty resentment there. In the early years it was really tough on her, but then, he didn’t have anything going on. That day at Whirlybirds, she just went down there probably to get twenty-five dollars for groceries. I’m sure she was down there trying to get a couple of sacks of pinto beans, you know?

I don’t think he was maliciously withholding money from my mother. I think it was just, you know, he didn’t have twenty-five dollars to send her. You know that joke about the producer who says to the other producer, “Hey, I got this great deal on this property, it’s only a million bucks. The bad news is they want a hundred dollars down.” Right? It was that kind of deal. He was always in hock up to his …He lived well, but he was living off the next paycheck. And God only knows how he managed it.

STEPHEN ALTMAN: There was not a lot of friendship for him on my mom’s side when we were growing up. It was always, “We don’t have any money for the rent and da, da, da. He’s an asshole.” Kids are pretty perceptive, I think, and I kind of threw that part out. You know, “I think you’re being emotional, Mom.” Sometimes kids are a little more rational than the adults can be. I never grew up with a chip on my shoulder for him. I only got it later after working with him [laughs].

KATHRYN REED ALTMAN: He didn’t appeal to me at all at first. But by the end of the day I caught on. That night we all went out for a drink on the way home, probably to Nickodell’s, which was the hot spot at RKO. After I’d settled down and we had a drink I got the whole idea.

The next day I showed up—we hadn’t gotten really intimate—it was all kind of polite with everybody else around. The next day the call was at a church and I was sitting in a pew reading The Diary of Anne Frank between takes. He was going up and down the aisle, setting lights, and he said, “Oh, you like that book?” We were still very distant, we weren’t buddies.

I said, “It’s terrific, did you read it?”

And he said, “Oh yeah. It was great.”

Well, he never read it, I found out later. Courting behavior.

That night we all went out. It was a Friday night, “Tight Shoe Night,” an assistant used to call it, and Bob and I always laughed at that. And it’s been “Tight Shoe Night” for the rest of our days. So we had a whole good time after drinks. That was fun, and the next day Konni, my daughter, and I were doing Saturday errands and all that kind of thing. We got home and there was a card under the door—I still have it—and it said, “That’s showbiz.” That’s all it said. I remember Konni immediately got that jealousy thing. And so she wrote on it, “Whoop-dee-doo.”

KONNI CORRIERE (stepdaughter): I was moody and pouty and shy, but he never did try to win me over, at least not the way her other boyfriends did. You know, try to get in good with me or whatever.

KATHRYN REED ALTMAN: I spent Sunday afternoon with him, and he was trying to show off that whole day. He was going with this girl, Ricky Barr. She was real aggressive; she was an agent. I guess they had a date on this Sunday night. And he wasn’t returning her call. I don’t know how it all worked. She came over and beat on the door and he went outside and had this big conversation with her. So we went out to dinner and came back and she was still there. It was a big deal. I don’t know who else she called, but the next day Tommy Thompson had this great line to Bob: “I hear they were bunching up at the gate at your apartment last night.” It was fun.

Lotus, his estranged wife, came over one of those nights, too, to meet me. She probably would have been one of my best friends if I had met her a different way. We both cooperated with the little boys all of the way through. I was comfortable enough and she seemed to be. I think she hoped up to that point there was a possibility, and she said she realized then there wasn’t. We never had any problems and we’ve been through a lot.

LOTUS CORELLI ALTMAN MONROE: That evening I was going to a play with a bunch of kids from Los Angeles City College. After, I called him up and said, “You want some coffee?” He said, “Yeah, sure, come on up.” I went there, and Kathryn was there. He said, “Kathryn, meet my wife.” Well, it was very convenient for him to stay married because he would tell his girlfriends, “I can’t marry you. I’m already married.” So I was kind of a safety net.

We chatted, and I was wound up from drinking coffee and seeing the play. I said, “I’m sorry I interrupted.” So I left. I thought, “She’s nice.” He was still coming and going. I knew that it would never work. We had tried it. It was supposed to be the two of us together. Before Stevie was born he’d call me and we’d talk, and he’d play me the whole music score from My Fair Lady. It took me a long time to get over this, but I knew it wasn’t going to work. It was not working for me.

I didn’t know her that well from that short meeting. I graduated from Hollywood High the same year as Kathryn. I didn’t know her there, but I found out later we had mutual friends. They started living together and we became better acquainted. Kathryn was perfect for him. We were divorced that same year they got married.

Kathryn and Robert Altman on April 5, 1959, during the first week they met, at what they came to call their “engagement dinner”

Robert Altman, from an undated,

unpublished poem titled “Infatuation”:


May fool this heart of mine


May seem like love at times

Knowing that it’s light romancing

Hoping that it’s love advancing


Came when we met by chance


Sprang from a subtle glance

Then you kiss me

My heart soared high above


Became love

SUSAN DAVIS (actress and cousin): When I think about Kathryn, I think about the older generation of Altman girls—[his aunts] Marie and Annette and Pauline and Ginny. Ginny is interesting because I think she’s the prototype of Kathryn, I always have. Ginny Altman was funny. She was only a teenager when Bob was born. See, it was like having the groovy, sexy aunt. That’s who Kathryn is. I met Kathryn the day Bob had me doing P.R. for Troubleshooters. I thought, “God, she’s like Ginny. He found a redhead who’s just like Ginny.” She has the same sense of humor, same kind of laugh, and knows just how to handle Bob.

KATHRYN REED ALTMAN: We went right into a full-time relationship—I never worked again after Whirlybirds—with a lot of ups and downs, a lot of adjustments. When you first meet somebody and all of a sudden you’re tight from the beginning, of course all kinds of things come up. And then I found myself pregnant, with Bobby. I don’t know if you want to go into the pregnancy thing or not, but that was the reason we got married.

KONNI CORRIERE: The next thing I know, we’re getting all dressed up because he’s taking us to dinner, my mother and myself, to some really fancy restaurant. He literally did it in order to ask me for my mother’s hand in marriage. I was thirteen. He did all the talking: “Konni, what would you think if I decided to marry your mother,” or whatever. I don’t know where my voice came from or who I thought I was, but I said, “Well, I think it’s all right, but actually she just came out of a marriage, her second marriage, and I think she needs some time by herself or something.” I said, “No, I think it’s too soon for her to do that.” I didn’t know she was pregnant.

KATHRYN REED ALTMAN: I’m not sure I would have married Bob if I hadn’t been pregnant. I was stuck to marry him at that point. There wasn’t anything I could do about that pregnancy. I had Konni and I had gotten her into the whole situation, and I was stuck. I never told him that and probably shouldn’t be saying it now. “Stuck” is probably too strong a word. I was crazy about him and I wanted it to work.

He was very much in love with me. He was determined. A couple of those episodes, those partying behaviors, I pulled back a couple of times. But he always convinced me. It was his charm, absolutely.

We went to Ensenada to get married. We couldn’t just live together. I wouldn’t even consider it because of my daughter. And he wouldn’t have, either. He still had a little of that Catholic upbringing that had come to the fore, as they say it will.

Robert Altman and his stepdaughter, Konni, in December 1959, at the Crescendo Nightclub, on the night Kathryn Reed Altman gave birth to Robert Altman’s third son, Robert Reed Altman

KONNI CORRIERE: When they got married we had to move, and I had to go to a father-daughter dinner at Paul Revere Junior High School. So Bob came. I was completely new and scared and he was there, and it was just the two of us and we didn’t know each other that well. We put name tags on, and I was Konni Pederson. So all night long, everyone introduced themselves to “Mr. Pederson” and he went with it. He played the part of Mr. Pederson, which was so sweet.

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